The Catholic Church, Child Abuse and Homosexuality by Lawrence Burke, Ed.D

    The claim by Archbishop Silvano Tomasi[1], the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, that the sexual abuse scandals which have continued to undermine the Catholic Church’s moral position for the last three decades, were carried out by Gay men and Lesbians who became priests, monks, brothers and nuns deserves closer scrutiny. Archbishop Tomasi asserts that between 80-90% of priests who have been accused of the sexual abuse of children were Gay[2]. It’s not clear how, where or when these astounding statistics were gathered, or how the Church gathered the evidence that the sexual orientation of their priests, brothers, monks and nuns, was homosexual rather than heterosexual, and was the cause of the wave of sexual abuse allegations against its members, within its parishes, religious orders and congregations. But, what is clear is that the claim deflects attention away from the probable cause; the Church’s negative, compulsory moral position on human sexuality and its attempt to control the psycho-sexual development of tens of millions of women, children and men. The language in all its official documents and encyclicals including  Casti  connubi (1930 Pope Pius XI), Humanae vitae (1968) by Pope Paul VI , Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II , Evangelium vitae (1995) by Pope John Paul II , which pontificate on how Catholics are to behave sexually is couched in a negative, deterministic, controlling vernacular which sees the human body as an enemy to be defeated. They all argue that “the flesh is the hinge of salvation.”[3]

The moral position of the Church grades human sexuality and sexual practices on a scale from sinfulness to one of acting towards a state of grace:

Damnation……………………….…. Sinfulness …………….Towards a state of Grace


Masturbation, homosexuality, contraception, pre-marital sex, sex for procreation

The Church in fact de-grades human sexuality. It does not promote an empowering, healthy, nurturing and positive view of human sexuality. It fails to foster an approach toward human sexual practices which articulates to all of humanity, that sex is a wonderful, pleasurable, normal and natural part of our lives. That it is a gift from the Creator, to be embraced, enjoyed and practiced without fear, self-loathing or guilt. In its de-gradation of human sexuality, the Catholic Church becomes culpable for deviance, both within its organization and in wider society. A healthy, positive, nurturing approach to human sexuality doesn’t cause sexual crimes or produce a billion dollar plus a year pornography industry.

In its attempt to provide moral guidance, the Catholic Church has imposed a behaviorist and controlling model of psycho-sexual development on millions of men, women, and children. This has resulted in quite disturbing and dysfunctional behaviors and attitudes within the Catholic Church, and within wider societies.  One quite clear and incontrovertible result of the Church’s negative compulsory morality is the wave of sexual abuse allegations made against its clergy, and members of its religious orders and congregations. The blame doesn’t lie elsewhere. It is squarely in its own house that these shameful deeds have been born, breed and played out at enormous personal cost and suffering to tens of thousands of girls, boys, men and women throughout the world, not to mention the immeasurable suffering brought down on Catholic families throughout the world.

Religious world views (and for that matter their secular counter-parts i.e. atheism, communism, socialism etc) together with their inherent ideological bases, and quite specific moral and dogmatic approaches to human development, exercise one of the most powerful sociological and psychological effects upon us  as we grow and develop as human beings.  For decades prior to the emergence of the first sexual abuse scandals, the Catholic Churches’ vocations directors for its diocesan seminaries, religious orders and congregations targeted the youngest and most impressionable members of its schools and parishes and coaxed them into their pre-seminaries and juniorates, with the specific aim of forming their physical, emotional, psychological, psycho-sexual and spiritual lives towards the moral, doctrinal and philosophical position of the Church. They were promised heavenly rewards for their earthly service.  These boys and girls were as young as 11 and 12 years of age. They were co-opted into a way of life at the most vulnerable time of their lives, in regards to their own psycho-sexual development. They were inculcated with a sullied view of humanity-namely that human flesh is sinful and that sexuality corrupts us and distances us from God. In brief they were taught through encyclicals like Casti Connubi that the only true holy state was one of sexual abstinence, and that to transgress such a state lead towards eternal damnation. A horrifying thought for impressionable children, and one which has had disastrous consequences. Those who taught this flawed and somewhat deviant world-view were themselves adherents to its cause, and as such were zealots in the belief that all flesh is sinful, and that only a truly chaste life led to God. Marriage, while sanctified by the church as dignified and laudable, was never held up as the ideal outside of the call to the religious life.  It was considered second best.

Today, these children are now well into middle age and/or  are the very elderly, and are among the tens of thousands of mainly men, and to a much lesser extent woman, who have been investigated and charged with the sexual abuse of children throughout the period from the 1950s through to the present time (sexual abuse of children existed prior to the 1950s too, but most of the victims and perpetrators are dead)  It is an indictment against the Catholic Church, that it members continue to look for causes outside their own house, and engage in scapegoating innocent men and woman, while refusing to acknowledge that the way it forms the minds of the perpetrators; these men and women when they were children in its pre-seminaries and juniorates, was and still is one of the primary causes of the sexual abuse of children within its organization.

Archbishop Tomasi’s rallying cry against Gay men and women has been heard throughout history. The Inquisition targeted innocent people and charged them with being heretics and witches for challenging Church orthodoxy. The Nazis targeted Jews as scapegoats for their own shortcomings both as a people and a nation, because they were unable to come to terms with the ignominious defeats of WW1. Sadly, humanity in general, and nations and organizations in particular, are unable to accept responsibility for particularly destructive and murderous key epochs in their history. As a result ordinary people across the world remain vulnerable and, are not immune from dangerous, callous and cruel attacks on their way of life.

There has been no causal link established, in any study, which shows that the sexual orientation of a priest, brother, monk or nun is the primary cause of the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church. The assertion, while silly and desperate, is like saying that the reason there are homosexual practices in single sex prisons is because all the inmates are Gay. Yet, despite the claim’s serious flaws both logically and empirically, it is still a dangerous one to make.  It has been around for some time, and was made earlier in 2002 by Vatican spokesman, Dr, Joaquin Navarro-Valls.[4] He argued that there was a causal link between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children within the Church, but cited no evidence to substantiate the claim. He did try to differentiate classifications like pedophile and ephebophile, but these simply become exercises in semantics to obfuscate the point that the alleged offenders, were once children and teenagers within the care of the Church, and had all been trained and educated by the Church’s priests, monks,  nuns and brothers over decades, and when they were very impressionable youngsters.

Once Tomasi’s and Navarro-Valls’s claims entered into the public sphere they tended to gain credence whether reliable and factual or not. The American columnist, Joel Mowbray took up the Navarro-Valls’s claim and asserted that 25-30% of Catholic priests are homosexual[5]. He provided no evidence but based it on some spurious figure that only 2-3% of men in secular society are Gay. He also accused the deceased Cardinal of Chicago, Joseph Bernadin of appointing homosexual priests in his diocese, as part of a deliberate plan to undermine the Church’s moral position on sexuality[6]. The problem with these uninformed, fantastical and clearly biased views is that they are picked up by the mainstream media, are re-asserted and begin to generate a kind of social hysteria, in the community and wider society, with all its subsequent manifestations, and are taken as fact. As a result there’s almost no possibility of informed, reasoned, factual debate ensuing, and it soon becomes evident that the truth will not set anyone free.

The Catholic Church’s position ex cathedra on homosexuality is clear. It states that:

    The number of men and women who have deep seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By virtues of self mastery that teach inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendships, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection[7].

It is evident that Archbishop Tomasi, along with Dr, Joachim Navrro-Valls and James Mowbray, along with other prominent Catholic Church leaders, might claim full  membership of the Magisterium, but they are clearly out of step with their own Church’s teaching on homosexuality. Moreover, such a clear doctrinal position from the Church on homosexuality as stated above,  suggests that Gay men and women may well be called into religious life too, and be able to live a life of chastity in service of their Church. But, to acknowledge this would place the Church in a vulnerable position, and risk undermining its opposition to homosexuality per se. Moreover, it would place heterosexuality and homosexuality as equal expressions of God’s gift of human sexuality. Such a view poses a serious threat to the Catholic Church. It would have to reassess its moral position vis-à-vis human sexual relationships and accept full responsibility for the sexual abuse cases of the preceding decades, and I dare say centuries.  Moreover, it would have to acknowledge that on matters of faith and human morality it can no longer claim the moral high ground, given the seriousness of the sexual abuse claims made against it.

The Catholic Church in the 21st century needs to untangle itself from its contentious history in which claims are made to justify today’s celibate Priesthood. This history includes its sanctioning of polygamy amongst its clergy in the 2nd century, concubines, and a landed autocratic and aristocratic clergy up until the 10th and 11th centuries.[8] The Church needs to seek forgiveness for its own misdeeds and for its own sinfulness. It needs to accept culpability for letting down millions of men, women and children across the world. Over the centuries it has behaved more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing rather than the Shepherd sent to tend the sheep. It needs to reclaim a tradition, started by Jesus, when he proclaimed, St Peter, a married man, to be the first leader of the new order.  It would also go a long way towards its own reconciliation with humanity, if it apologized for the recent calumny made against millions of Gay men and women throughout the world.


Catholic Catechism, The Meaning of Death, In Brief, 1015, Paulist Press, USA, 2001.

Cline, R. Roman Catholicism & Homosexuality: An Unusual Relationship, About.Com

Retrieved 2/10/2009

Irvine, R. & Kincaid, C, Homosexuals in the Catholic Church, Media Monitor, 2002.

Paulist Press, Http://  accessed 2/10/2009

Weiser, G. A Brief History of Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church,, Retrieved 2/10/2009

[2] Op.cit

[3] Catholic Catechism, The Meaning of  Christian Death, In Brief, 1015

[4] Irvine, R & Kincaid C, Homosexuals in the Catholic Church, Media Monitor, 2002.

[5] Op.cit.

[6] Op. cit.

[7] Cline, R. Roman Catholicism & Homosexuality: An Unusual Relationship,

[8] Weiser, G. A Brief History of Celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church,

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